As 2021 saw studios trying to get moviegoers back to theaters, simultaneous streaming releases were also seen as an experiment worth undertaking. While the results seemed to vary wildly depending on what movie you’re talking about, it sounds like in the case of Marvel Studios’ Black Widow, that approach amounted to more heartache than triumph. With a wild amount of money lost due to pirating, the woes of this already beleaguered movie have just grown a little more in the long run.
According to Deadline’s recent deep dive into the 2021’s streaming/theatrical release hybrids we saw populate the calendar, Scarlett Johansson’s MCU solo was heavily pirated during its simultaneous Disney+ release. Clocking in at 20 million pirated copies in the wild by the end of last summer, the estimated losses from that piracy came in at an impressively horrific $600 million. These claims come from unnamed sources, but looking at the theatrical performance of this Marvel movie in particular, it does seem to check out.
Though Black Widow seemed to start its run with monumental results in the pandemic influenced box office, it didn’t take long for the bubble to burst. The film’s second weekend hold was so dismal that it prompted theater owners to slam the day and date release model. Even worse, that showing was so bad that Space Jam: A New Legacy was allowed to top the first theatrical MCU movie since Spider-Man: Far From Home in only its second frame of release. As future titles in the Marvel Studios line dropped the streaming debut angle, and seemed to fair pretty well to spectacularly, it’s a point that does seem to stand rather well.
Keep in mind, this whole scenario played out even with the Premier Access buy-in firmly in place, requiring Disney+ subscribers to pay an additional charge to even access the film. From a certain frame of reference, that only makes the situation look worse, and absolutely justifies Marvel’s decision to return to the theatrical first model with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. By the time that entry’s second weekend rolled around, it had become “the biggest domestic blockbuster.” Of course, that would change when the release of a small independent MCU film called Spider-Man: No Way Home was released in December.
Hindsight, as history tells us, is 20/20; and the release of Black Widow seems to continue to act as a case study of what not to do when implementing a theatrical/streaming hybrid. As if the legal battle that was brewing between Disney and Scarlett Johansson wasn’t enough of a cautionary tale, these pirating figures are only the icing to the deadly cake being served. It’s a model that’s not going away anytime soon, to be certain. But knowing the pitfalls of what went wrong before can only help those who continue to blaze this particular trail a little better in the future.
If you somehow missed Black Widow at the theater, or in its Premier Access release widow, the film is now available to rent or own on digital and physical media. Or, you can stream that title, as well as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, on Disney+; alongside all of the MCU series that build upon that universe even more. Meanwhile, if you want the scoop on all of the upcoming Marvel movies in Phase 4, you can head to our guide for all of the release dates that have been set out so far.